I married a male accordion player (please judge).
And while the musician played his night and weekend gigs, I began hanging out with theatre friends, going to cast parties, shows, and D.C. gay bars. I had a blast with the gay guys, but oddly I didn’t meet a single gay woman.
My ludicrous marriage lasted six interminable years. My own Lawrence Welk worked as a lawyer by day and musician by night. We didn’t see each other too much, which was good. Life wasn’t horrible. Finally, on my 30th birthday, in 1978, I flipped out. I couldn’t take one more night in a hotel lobby waiting for his Bar Mitzvah gig to end. I fled.
My theatre friends tried to help me figure out why (besides the accordion) I left my marriage. That’s when my college roommate called and asked if I’d visit her in Cape Cod. And, intuitive gal she was, Lesley took me for a day in Provincetown.
I didn’t know what hit me. Gay couples everywhere. We stopped at the Womencraft bookshop, a small, crowded space bulging with lesbian literature, feminist gifts, and crafts. Too afraid to investigate any of the books, I absorbed everything that leaped into my path: buttons proclaiming “The Moral Majority is Neither “ and “A Woman without a Man is like a Fish Without a Bicycle;” posters, T-shirts, and mugs celebrating feminism, pro-choice and other familiar topics.
Lesley paid for a stained-glass seagull while I stared at the short-haired, make-up free women behind the cash register. Were they, you know? I picked up a mug with a photo of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture on it and took it to the register.
“That will be $4.99 after the 10% lesbian discount,” said the clerk. Holy shit. My face flushed and I bobbled my wallet trying to get to my money to pay for my lesbian-discounted mug. Then I clutched my purchase and ran out to Commercial Street, sweat beading up on my forehead and knees weak with panic. Like an undercover cop in trouble, I’d been made.
And it hit me. I was a lesbian. It all made sense. Yes. Lesbian. Right there on Commercial Street, I had an epiphany. I also had a lobster roll and kept looking around.
Dodging bikes and bodies on the teeming honky-tonk stretch, Lesley and I saw the incredible number of men, in couples, flowing with the tide. There were more men wearing earrings than women. On the other hand, a lot of the women resembled beefy men. I shamelessly gawked.
Then, a tough-looking woman wearing a “Don’t Die Wondering” button side-stepped a scooter and ran smack into me. “Excuse me” she mumbled, using her muscular arms to fend me off as I stared at the words “Don’t Die Wondering” under my nose. I turned to gape as she charged down the street and almost did die wondering as a crazed biker nearly took me out.
So I went home, talked to myself about the theatre actresses I’d had debilitating “crushes” on, the episodes of Cagney & Lacey I couldn’t miss, and the ennui in my marital bed. Yeah, time to peek out of the closet.
I was terrified to tell friends and family I was gay. Paranoid and miserable, I loitered in the library, stealthily reading up on homosexuality. And back then, the news wasn’t so good. It seemed I’d have to learn to play softball.
Fortunately, The Washington Blade newspaper gave me hope. The paper’s headlines hawked liberal legislation, successful gay business people, book and movie reviews, and a list of support organizations a mile long. I could join gay democrats, go gay roller skating, sing with a gay chorus, and even pray at a gay synagogue. What? To find a nice Jewish girl?
Damned if I didn’t. After stealthy solo visits to seedy lesbian bars and trips to the D.C. Women’s Center, plus some odd but informative one-off dates, I met a woman who became my first lover. Okay, I was out to me. And her, of course, but firmly in the closet elsewhere.
It took another year to meet Bonnie, the woman, who has been my spouse for the last 38 years. Back then I came out to my father (“Oh boy, I need a Scotch!”), my boss (“Um, that’s nice. I don’t care”—but he did) and the whole world in print in LGBTQ publications.
I moved to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, or as I call it “Gayberry, RFD.” And would flagrantly disobey that button seen in Provincetown in 1978. No, I would not die wondering. I’m queer, I’m here, I never had to play softball and I never have to listen to “Lady of Spain” again.
National Coming Out Day 2020